What is Dust?

DUST is an alternate reality game, an immersive story in which you interact with a fictional world by using real world media and skills. It is not a video game where you control a virtual player, instead you play as yourself using mobile apps, websites, and social media. Players work together alongside fictional characters to unravel a mystery that will help them save the world. The game officially launches on January 26th. The problem will be revealed and the fun will begin!

What is an Alternate Reality Game (ARG)?

Alternate reality games are a new genre of interactive storytelling in which players work collaboratively to piece together and advance an adaptive narrative that is integrated into everyday media. Most ARGs have been launched as entertainment and marketing endeavors, but a few have been designed for educational purposes, including “World Without Oil,” “Urgent Evoke,” and “The Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry.”

When will DUST be available to play?

The original, live version of DUST was played by over 2,000 people and ended in March 2015. A replayable version, available later in 2015, can be played anytime by a facilitator (e.g., teacher, librarian, informal educator, parent) and group of players. Facilitators will need to get permission from the DUST team and will receive a packet of information on how to facilitate the game and how it relates to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Who made DUST?

Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, Brigham Young University, the University of Maryland, and Tinder Transmedia have partnered with NASA scientists to develop DUST.

Who is the target audience for DUST?

DUST is designed for teens between 13-17 years old, with an emphasis on females and other groups traditionally under-represented in STEM fields, including blacks and Hispanics. Players of all ages, however, are encouraged to join in; indeed, we found during the live game that many of the scientific activities and puzzles were solved by intergenerational teams.

What will the players of DUST learn?

Players will acquire content knowledge about the deep-time sciences, including astronomy and biology, as well as develop skills crucial to scientific inquiry, such as forming and testing hypotheses, and collecting and analyzing data. The deep-time sciences are those sciences that deal with processes that occur over thousands or millions of years, like the formation of galaxies or the evolution of species. Because gameplay takes place across familiar online spaces, players are empowered to recognize that many of the skills they already possess--discovering content; annotating and interpreting media; collaborating and sharing with their peers; and communicating and explaining key concepts--also constitute valuable learning practices in their own right, applicable to STEM and other disciplines, and that core scientific concepts are within their grasp.

All of the learning that takes place in DUST has been carefully reviewed by top educators and scientists in the field, and is inspired by and mapped to current NGSS standards, particularly those related to scientific inquiry.

Does it cost money?

Dust is completely free! Teachers and students can use it at no cost both in and out of the classroom.

How much does a teacher need to prepare?

Those facilitating a replay of DUST will receive a packet that explains the recommended activities (and their relationship to the NGSS standards), gameplay, and technology needs. Facilitators will need to monitor the scientific inquiry activities that players engage in and help coach them if they get stuck. Solutions to puzzles will be provided to facilitators and they will have the ability to advance the storyline and activities at their own pace.

How many students can participate?

The replayable version of DUST should include at least 8 active players. While there is theoretically no upper limit as to number of participants, from a logistical perspective, it will become increasingly difficult for a single teacher or moderator to monitor the game and provide useful help and feedback if the number of players gets too large. Approximately 20-40 active players is likely ideal.

What technologies will be used by players and is any special setup required for in-school use?

While the original game included a number of external social media sites, the replayable version will be more self-contained to facilitate in-school use. It includes the following technologies:

Is it safe?

DUST has been specifically designed to protect players’ privacy and safety. It has been carefully reviewed by the University of Maryland's Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure that it meets federal, institutional, and ethical guidelines.

How much time does it take to play?

This replayable version has 10 modules that includes lesson plans/activities, each of which can be accomplished over 60 minutes or broken into smaller sessions depending on your instructional needs. Players will be able to explore the website, apps, and graphic novel installments above and beyond this amount of time.

Can adults really design a game that will appeal to 13-17-year-olds?

Not without some help from 13-17 year olds themselves! Adult designers partnered with teens to craft many of game interfaces, characters, and storyline that you can experience in DUST. The programming and art was done by universities and game designers, but our teen co-designers contributed a great deal to our game! We also worked closely with teen beta-testers to play-test some of our mobile apps and our player community website. Our teen co-designers and beta testers came from Sousa Middle School in Washington DC, Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Washington DC, Dixon Middle School in Provo, UT and other locations around the United States.

Why is the National Science Foundation sponsoring this game?

National surveys and current research has shown that teenagers' interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is declining, especially when it comes to girls and minorities. Of course the National Science Foundation doesn’t want that to continue, and neither do we. While DUST is intended to be fun, it also introduces teens to STEM studies! By using the scientific process to solve problems teens confidence will grow in their ability to use STEM. Play games AND get A’s on your science and math classes? Sounds like a good deal! If you are a teacher and you would like to know more about how to use this game in your classroom, we have created a site just for you. Please click HERE, and we will get started!

How can I learn more? How can I contact you?

If you have any questions, please contact:

Derek Hansen, Associate Professor
Brigham Young University

Kari Kraus, Associate Professor
University of Maryland, College Park